July 29, 2011


The US Supreme Court recently ruled on a 7-2 vote that California’s law preventing the sale of violent video games to minors violates the First Amendment. By the time the ruling reached the evening news, passions were high on both sides of the argument. Proponents insisted that minors are protected by liquor and cigarette laws and that violent video games come under the same rubric.  Opponents dragged in nursery rhymes and the Brothers Grimm to argue that children’s literature is rife with violence.  

(Yahoo Images)

Opponents have a point. What kindergarten child doesn’t wince to learn that Jack and Jill have broken their crowns or that Humpty Dumpty can’t be put back together again? Fairy tales run the gambit in violence, depicting murder, theft and beatings. In my novel, “Gothic Spring,” I use one of the Grimm’s’ stories about incest to foreshadow my heroine’s obsession with an older man. The other day, I came upon a lullaby by renowned poet William Butler Yeats that made me blink:

                    “The angels are stooping

                    Above your bed;

                    They are weary of trooping

                    With the dead.

                    God’s laughing in Heaven

                    To see you so good”     

Reading it, I was struck by its unpleasant notions:

  • The dead are unhappy
  • The angels don’t care about the dead

God, in the meantime doesn’t seem to notice as He’s too busy laughing at “you.”   It’s not the sort of message I’d put into a lullaby, but I’m not a renowned poet.

It may be that even the great writers don’t always get it right when it comes to children and violence. But I wouldn’t want to see their works banned.